Reps push to increase transit tax break

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A bipartisan group of 52 House members is pushing to double the amount of money that public transit riders can set aside from their paychecks for a tax break on their commutes each month.

The lawmakers said the transit tax benefit, cut from $245 to $130 last year by Congress, should be made equal to the $250 that U.S. drivers are currently allowed to put aside pre-tax for parking rates.

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“With 2.7 million commuters using the transit benefit to get from home to work, Congress should take action to ensure that riders of public transportation are provided with the same benefits as other commuters,” the lawmakers, lead by Reps. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) and Pete King (R-N.Y.), wrote in a letter to leaders of the House Ways and Means Committee.  

“Moreover, Congress should ensure that the benefit is restored in order to continue efforts to encourage public transportation ridership, which helps get cars off the road, reduce emissions, and eliminate lost time and delays," the lawmakers continued. "As Congress seeks to improve our economy and create jobs, helping people get to work must be a priority.”

The reduction in pre-tax benefits came at the beginning of 2014 over the objection of public transit advocates who argued that a similar tax break for drivers who park in garages was left unchanged.

Congress returned the transit tax break to its original levels during the lame-duck session after last November’s election, but only for the few weeks that remained in 2014.   

The tax break was originally increased to $245 in the 2009 economic stimulus package. The benefit was reduced when the stimulus ended in 2011, but it was later restored in a 2012 bill to push back the implementation of sequestration until early 2013.

The extension was only for one year, however, so the benefit returned to $130 on Jan. 1, 2014.

Transit advocates fought for a long-term extension of the higher limit during last year’s lame-duck session, but they were only able to win passage of a monthlong extension. 

Transit advocates complained that the late 2014 extension was essentially meaningless because the short-term increase was not retroactive and it was not approved by lawmakers until after the beginning of December, which would have been the cutoff for passengers to change their pre-tax plans.